Three Turkish soldiers were killed and three others were wounded by an explosion on Thursday during a search operation in the Afrin province of northwestern Syria that was part of an ongoing Turkish military campaign in the region.
The Turkish General Staff said in a statement that an improvised explosive blew up and killed three soldiers and injured three others during search operations. The military offered condolences to the families of the slain soldiers and wished those injured a speedy recovery.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Thursday that Turkey would drive the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia away from the Syrian border if it does not reach an agreement with the United States on a plan to remove the group from Syria’s Manbij region. “If this plan is not realised, the only option left will be clearing the terrorists out. This applies not only to Syria, but to Iraq as well,” he said in an interview with the state-run Anadolu news agency.
Autocratic Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday that 3,698 terrorists have been “neutralized” in Syria’s Afrin since the start of Operation Olive Branch. Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply the militants in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.
Speaking at a ceremony at the presidential complex, Erdoğan said: “Afrin’s town center has been taken under control. We are now restoring schools and hospitals.” He said Turkey would soon restore peace in Afrin and added that counterterrorism operations would not cease until threats along Turkey’s borders are completely eliminated.
US President Donald Trump spoke with Erdoğan on Thursday about the importance of strong bilateral relations, the White House said, amid tensions over Turkey’s military actions in parts of Kurdish-controlled northern Syria.
“The two leaders committed to continue efforts to intensify cooperation on shared strategic challenges and to address the concerns of both countries that affect the bilateral relations,” the White House said in a statement. The White House did not mention Syria, where Turkey’s military campaign risks confrontation between the NATO allies who have been at loggerheads over the US policy in Syria and other issues.
Meanwhile, Kurdish-German footballer Deniz Naki joined a hunger strike in front of United Nations headquarters in the Swiss city of Geneva on Wednesday to demonstrate against Turkey’s military offensive in the Kurdish regions of Syria. “We demand that the Turkish military and its Islamist allies withdraw from Afrin and end this war of aggression,” German daily newspaper Die Welt quoted Naki as saying.
The 28-year-old, who was born to a Kurdish-Turkish family in Germany, previously played for the under-21 German national team and St. Pauli in the northern city of Hamburg. Around 200 Kurds, including some Kurdish mayors from Turkey, also joined the hunger strike alongside Naki.